The question is not a new one. If one needs to undergo an extended and deep treatment regime, where there is much fundamental discussion about one’s life circumstances and all the confidential issues surrounding such, is it permitted to see a therapist of the opposite gender.
Some poskim will not permit any gender if the medical provider is an “apikorus” or not religiously inclined, as they fear that the treatment may well eventually involve the religious patient being influenced to unburden themselves from the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos. I have witnessed this therapy being applied to another individual. Such therapies sometimes assume that if a patient’s life circumstances have brought them into a spiralling and uncontrolled level of descent, that one must rebuild afresh and cast away all and every vestige of the former life to avoid these. This can mean ceasing to adhere to a religion-based lifestyle and/or cutting oneself off from the familial environment.
On the matter of gender separation, other Poskim contend that since there is a tendency, and indeed a need, to unload all of one’s deepest secrets and intimate feelings, it is best not to do so with a medical therapist of the opposite gender, as this may place both people in a position where they are sexually vulnerable. Such an opinion was recently published by R’ Yitzchak Zilbershtein, an expert in Halachic Medical Ethics,
and the Posek for the Ma’aynei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak. R’ Zilbershtein is a son-in-law of R’ Elyashiv, grandson of the saintly R’ Aryeh Levin ז’ל, and brother-in-law of the famed R’ Chaim Kanievsky.
The ruling was countersigned by eminent Poskim, including R’ Ovadya Yosef, R’ Yisrael Belski, R’ Vosner and R’ Karelitz. It concludes with the observation that if there is a clinical need to engage someone of the opposite gender because of their expertise, one should first ask the Rabbi of the Hospital. Presumably, the Rabbi of the hospital will be in a position to reflect on the medical therapist in question and whether there is a risk of a developing intimacy versus the immediate need of the patient.
It can be expected that many will howl with derision about such a Psak, as it suggests that there is professional compromise at play. On the other hand, it can also be viewed as a sensible suggestion because it engenders הרחקה, a distance between situations that may be likely to involve deep intimacy of thought. At the end of the day, it would, in my opinion, be wrong to compromise on the efficacy of treatment and possible cure on account of gender issues. I am presupposing that the “best” person for some treatment, or even the person who has a record of great success might be of the opposite gender.
החכם עיניו בראשו
“The wise man has eyes in their head”, and acts accordingly. For the masses, especially in B’nei Brak where gender separation is extensive and where seeking a psychologist or psychiatrist (and not a Rabbi) to deal with one’s innate problems is rarer, this is a Psak that will hopefully encourage people to seek a medically qualified therapist.
Having recently read a book by a religious psychologist whose domain of expertise is Child Molestation, it was interesting to note that in most cases it was he who discovered that molestation had occurred. Parents usually have no idea. This is especially so in a frum community where feelings are taboo and extreme conformance is a way of life. It was only because parents sought professional help for “strange behaviour” that he discovered the tell-tale signs of molestation. Let’s hope that this Psak encourages the religious community to also deal with the myriad of psychological ailments and propensities that our generation is facing by referring these to experts.